How heavy should a business plan be?
Morris Kaplan, one-time stockbroker and venture capitalist, brings his finance skills and recent experience as a business journalist and writer to IT, with a special interest in telecoms and how communications is being transformed by technology.
How heavy should a business plan be? Three kilos? How about one kg? That’s easier to shove under your arm. Clearly the Government's 4 kg business plan for the NBN was far too heavy for the parliamentarians to handle last week. Also too heavy were the disclosure and confidentiality restrictions first offered by bureaucrats who suggested that viewers of the weighty business plan should be sworn to silence for several years. Eventually they agreed on a lesser commitment of six months suggesting that they considered a six months head start was all NBN needed to win over the early adopters in the national roll out. As fas as weight was concerned the 4 kg, 400 page monster was distilled into a 36 page summary. Business plans are usually prepared for investors to consider a proposal before committing any money to a venture. This one was presented to our parliamentarians as we are the investors. Despite many years experience in the capital markets and many business plans later this blogger could not make head nor tails of the case. What was noted however was that Telstra shares were tanking mercilessly early in November hitting an all-time low of $2.54. After the debate in Senate where it was clear that it would hand back an affirmative vote to the House for the break up of Telstra, its shares rocketed and with several days of trading, hit $2.92, a rise of 15% in market value. It is clear that the prospect of not breaking up rather than fears of break-up were bearing down on the market. As far as the business plan was concerned it is not a business plan at all – at least in the conventional sense. It does not include any financial statements – no profit and loss statement, no cash flow statements, no balance sheets. What we do know is that as a result of paying $13.8 billion to Telstra in decommissioning and infrastructure payments, the estimated capex to build the NBN will be reduced from $37.4 billion to $35.7 billion. This puts a $49.5 billion price on the total project ($35.7billion in capex plus $13.8 billion in payments to Telstra). The vote to split Telstra and the roll out of the national broadband network represents a massive transfer of wealth from taxpayers to Telstra shareholders (already reflected in the prevailing share price). Shareholders are clearly pleased that the government has purchased its aging infrastructure into the national broadband network. Only time will tell, because the weighty business plan does not tell, whether the NBN is the most cost-effective means of realising the objective of universal and affordable broadband.